Immigration Reform
April 18, 2021

Former President George W. Bush is still disappointed that immigration reform wasn't accomplished during his presidency, telling CBS News on Sunday that today, he wants to "help set a tone that is more respectful about the immigrant," which may lead to change.

After leaving the White House, Bush picked up a paint brush, and several of his oil paintings are featured in his new book, Out of Many, One: Portraits of America's Immigrants. He told CBS Evening News anchor Norah O'Donnell that he hopes his portraits create "a better understanding about the role of immigrants in our society. Mine is just a small voice in what I hope is a chorus of people saying, 'Let's see if we can't solve this problem.'"

Bush said he campaigned on immigration reform, and "made it abundantly clear to voters this is something I intended to do," but even though there was bipartisan support at the time, nothing came to fruition. Since then, presidents have signed executive orders on immigration, "but all that means is that Congress isn't doing its job," Bush said.

The problem with the debate over immigration, Bush continued, is it "can create a lot of fear: 'They're comin' after you.' But it's a nation that is willing to accept the refugee or the harmed or the frightened, that to me is a great nation. And we are a great nation." He supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who pass a background check and pay back taxes, and should President Biden ever propose this, Bush said he would lobby the GOP to get behind him. Catherine Garcia

February 18, 2021

Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) on Thursday will introduce legislation backed by President Biden to overhaul the U.S. immigration system, and Sen. Bob Menedez (D-N.J.) will introduce it in the Senate next week. The sweeping bill would provide an eight-year path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, starting with the DREAMERs — people brought to the U.S. illegally as children — and immigrants who qualify for Temporary Protected Status.

The bill, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, would also increase the number of certain visas, replace the word "alien" with "noncitizen" in U.S. immigration code, fund more immigration judges and support staff to help clear the backlog of asylum seekers, send funds to Central American countries to discourage emigration, and increase security at ports of entry to fight smuggling of drugs and other contraband. It would try to avert a future reprise of former President Donald Trump's "Muslim ban" by limiting the power of presidents to curtail immigration.

The legislation wraps together all Biden's major immigration policy priorities. "But White House officials were having trouble Wednesday convincing advocates and even reporters that it could garner the support of at least 10 Republicans in the Senate," Politico's Anita Kumar reports. "Behind the scenes, the White House has accepted that it will need to break the bill up into pieces," including standalone legislation on DREAMERs and TPS recipients.

Some Democrats "are growing increasingly uneasy that the White House is walking into a political buzzsaw in its zeal to unwind hardline Trump administration policies," Politico reports, especially House Democrats representing Texas border districts. "If we go off the rails, it's going to be bad for us," said Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas). "Biden is going to be dealing with a minority in Congress if he continues down some of these paths." On the other hand, ABC News notes, if Democrats "wait for Republican support, Congress could be looking at another failed attempt at immigration reform." Peter Weber

February 15, 2021

The Biden administration and Democratic lawmakers are expected to release an immigration reform bill later this week, several people with knowledge of the matter told NBC News.

On his first day in office, President Biden shared his immigration priorities, and the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 proposal will include a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants and the expansion of the refugee resettlement program, NBC News reports. It will also call for the deployment of more technology to secure the southern border.

If the proposal is too big for some lawmakers, the Biden White House is fine with breaking the legislation into pieces, NBC News reports, with lawmakers first passing bills to immediately legalize DREAMers and migrant farmworkers before moving on to other priorities.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) is spearheading the immigration legislative effort in the Senate, and in a statement he said the "plan is not only about fixing our broken immigration system, but building a better one that reunites families, brings the undocumented community out of the shadows and on a path to citizenship, stands up for human rights, addresses root causes of migration, and includes a smart border security strategy." Catherine Garcia

February 14, 2018

President Trump on Wednesday encouraged senators to rally behind comprehensive immigration reform and not support narrow "Band-Aid" bills. In a statement, the president indicated he is partial to a bill proposed by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) that reduces legal immigration, ends the visa lottery, funds border security, and creates a path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, also known as DREAMers.

One of the "Band-Aid" bills Trump was referring to is a bipartisan proposal to exchange amplified funding for border security for protections for the DREAMers. The president believes such compromises are, at best, temporary solutions. His preferred bill, however, is unpopular with the Democratic minority and thus unlikely to pass the Senate with 60 votes, CNN says.

A White House official told The Washington Post that the president feels that he has already compromised enough with Democrats on immigration by supporting a path to citizenship for DREAMers. "We went as far as we could in that direction," the unnamed aide said, "but any more and the House would never take up the bill and the president would not be able to sign it."

But even some of the president's allies in the Senate think he's making a mistake by drawing such a hard line. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told The New York Times that vetoing a bipartisan immigration bill would amount to failure. "Then you'll have three presidents who failed [to pass immigration reform]," Graham said." You'll have Obama, Bush, and Trump." Kelly O'Meara Morales

February 4, 2018

On Monday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) plan on introducing bipartisan immigration legislation that gives Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients a pathway to citizenship and calls for a study to determine what border security measures are needed, The Wall Street Journal reports.

It does not contain immediate funding for a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a priority for President Trump. "It's time we end the gridlock so we can quickly move on to completing a long-term budget agreement that provides our men and women in uniform the support they deserve," McCain said in a statement to the Journal on Sunday. "While reaching a deal cannot come soon enough for America's service members, the current political reality demands bipartisan cooperation to address the impending expiration of the DACA program and secure the southern border."

Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) and Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) have introduced similar legislation in the House. Last month, the government partially shut down for three days after lawmakers were unable to reach a deal on a spending bill, with Democrats saying they couldn't agree to a budget unless DACA was addressed. Funding is once again set to run out on Friday. Catherine Garcia

September 4, 2017

President Trump has decided to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, but will delay its dismantling for six months, Politico reported, citing two people familiar with Trump's thinking. DACA is an Obama-era program that grants work permits to young immigrants brought into America illegally as children, and currently benefits roughly 800,000 "DREAMers."

The president has faced criticism from some in his own party for mulling ending the program. On Friday, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) urged Trump not to end the program outright, saying, "I believe that this is something that Congress has to fix." But the program has also been seen by many Republicans as an overreach of executive authority. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump promised to end DACA immediately, but has since expressed a sympathetic tone towards DREAMers. On Friday, Trump told reporters, "We love the DREAMers. We think the DREAMers are terrific."

Politico reported it was Attorney General Jeff Sessions who finally helped persuade Trump to "kick the issue to Congress." But as The Washington Post reported, "tackling immigration is not easy for Congress."

Trump is expected to officially announce his decision on Tuesday. Jessica Hullinger

August 4, 2017

When pressed for statistics to back up his rigid claims on immigration earlier this week, White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller pointed to a study by Harvard economist George Borjas. Borjas had "opened up the old data and talked about how [low-skilled immigration] actually did reduce wages for workers," Miller told The New York Times' Glenn Thrush, who was pressing him over a new immigration proposal from Republican Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.) and David Perdue (Ga.) that is backed by President Trump.

The proposal, dubbed the RAISE Act, would severely curb legal immigration by prioritizing applicants based on skills, including whether they can speak English. Some critics posited that Trump merely wants to have fewer immigrants, not more highly skilled ones, while others noted that the idea of a merit-based immigration system is antithetical to what the U.S. has historically stood for. But writing in Politico on Friday, Borjas himself defended the plan as "a clear and transparent framework" for immigration that is just "common sense":

The Cotton-Perdue bill would divvy up the 140,000 visas now assigned to the employment preferences by using a point system similar to those adopted and used for several decades in other countries, including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. In rough terms, those point systems essentially grade visa applicants on the basis of personal characteristics, such as education, occupation, and age; add up the points; and grant an entry visa to those who "pass the test."

[...] In short, the bill provides a clear and transparent framework for determining which types of workers we believe to be most beneficial. And I suspect that most Americans would view the Cotton-Perdue approach as common sense. Do many of us really believe that America would benefit more by letting in a sociology professor in her 50s than by letting in a young woman with an advanced degree in computer science? [George Borjas, via Politico]

Furthermore, by prioritizing high-skilled immigrants, the bill would bring a workforce that better complements America's existing economy, Borjas writes, and result in an immigration system that is "economically more profitable." Read his entire opinion at Politico. Kimberly Alters

August 4, 2017

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told the Arizona Republic in an interview Thursday that when he returns to Washington, D.C., after treatment for brain cancer, "immigration reform is one of the issues I'd like to see resolved." Reform has long been important to McCain, who joined forces in 2013 with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on an ultimately unsuccessful bipartisan collaboration on immigration, the Gang of Eight.

McCain said "we'll know in a few weeks [about the cancer]," but before he left D.C. for treatment, he floated the topic of a bipartisan immigration reform revival with Schumer. "I've got to talk to [Schumer] about when would be the best time. I think there are all kinds of deals to be made out there. I really do," he said.

While President Trump would likely be reluctant to sign anything short of the uncompromising vision he has promised to his base, McCain claimed that "what I do know is that if we could pass it through the House and Senate the way we passed it through the Senate last time [with the Gang of Eight], it's like this Russia [sanctions] bill — it doesn't matter. Do you think [Trump] signed [the Russia sanctions bill] because he liked it?" Trump earlier this week signed a bill levying new sanctions on Russia that had passed both chambers of Congress with veto-proof majorities.

On the topic of Trump's U.S.-Mexico border wall, McCain said he wasn't inherently against it, "but go to China and you'll see a border wall there."

"We need technology, we need drones, we need surveillance capabilities, and we need rapid-reaction capabilities," McCain said. "But to think that a wall is going to stop illegal immigration or drugs is crazy." Read his full interview with the Arizona Republic, or watch below. Jeva Lange

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